Elisabeth H. Buck
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
In The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors (2016), Nikki Caswell, Jackie Grutsch McKinney, and Rebecca Jackson chronicle many of the challenges faced by professionals recently hired into writing center administrative positions. Central to their understanding is how a director's training and preparation affect their approach to the role. They describe, for example, two of Ianetta et al.'s (2006) classifications of writing center directors, the universal professional and the local professional. While the universal professional "has a PhD in rhetoric and composition...and values engaging the disciplinary conversation, both as a consumer and producer of scholarship," the local professional "primarily values first-hand experience" (6). Although both constitute valid perspectives—and Caswell, Grutsch McKinney, and Jackson are careful to avoid monolithic pronouncements as to what kind of preparation is ideal—these two classifications reflect a shifting professionalization of writing center directorships. A director trained in rhetoric and composition, who is conversant in and expected to contribute to scholarly discourse, may have different priorities or beliefs than someone who has acquired most of their knowledge of writing centers through on-the-job experience.
This might seem a rather disjointed way to begin a chapter about tutor education, but the central tension here often frames training: specifically, whether it is preferable to educate tutors via a hands-on, contextual approach and/or the extent to which tutors should also be required to interact with writing center-related theory and scholarship. Meredith McCarroll, in a 2017 article for Praxis, engages with this tension vis-à-vis her concern with a student's negative perception of a required for-credit training course on the grounds that tutoring is "intuitive"; McCarroll concludes, however, that this perception ultimately demonstrated the student's unfitness to work in the role of a tutor. A for-credit training course, in McCarroll's conception, should ideally "[place] the tutor-in-training in the uncomfortable active position, forcing them to see writing as a struggle, to question the right that one has to tutor a peer, to doubt the validity of the Writing Center, and to engage—finally—in the assertion of those rights and the assertion of their claim to that position." McCarroll's argument and her student's experiences underscore not just the debate about ideal heuristics for tutor education, but also, perhaps, the ways that a director's own perceptions and background may help determine which way the practical versus theoretical training pendulum swings.
My motivation for writing this chapter emerges primarily from the fact that I was placed squarely within a professional conflict shaped by my own education as both a former tutor and emerging scholar. I characterize myself as a universal professional: I have a PhD in rhetoric and composition and wrote a dissertation about a writing center topic. I was hired out of my PhD program into a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Writing and Reading Center (WRC) at a regional doctoral research university. What I did not realize upon accepting this job was that the faculty director role came with mitigated authority: the Director of the WRC, who does not have a PhD but had served in the job for over twenty years, would be retaining her role, and we would share the WRC's primary leadership position. The delineation between our responsibilities was ill-defined, but the ostensible (though never explicitly articulated) institutional goal in maintaining both of these positions was for the Faculty Director to design the center's protocols/vision and for the other Director to implement practices via a more robust, full-time physical presence. Another tacit expectation was that I was hired to make changes to the status quo.
Not all individuals who enter into writing center directorships have the ability to alter tutor education protocols, as factors like resources, political and institutional dynamics, time, and staffing frequently define training parameters. Nevertheless, determining best practices for educating tutors (within given constraints) often becomes one of a director's immediate and ongoing priorities. My challenging dynamics and limited authority meant that I would need to be especially conscious of how I chose to move forward concerning tutor training. Although my specific conditions are unique, many administrators may see parallels here with regard to an absence of clear objectives, difficulty transitioning into various roles, or—especially for new writing center directors—the circumstance of inheriting a program that lacks well-established procedures. Emerging then from these circumstances, the goal of this chapter is three-fold. I argue first for the advantages of engaging in assessment as a new director, especially as a means to promote deliberate action that is conscious of institutional constituencies and inclusive of student perspective. I argue too for the value of assessing tutor education, which I hope will be applicable to administrative writing center staff at all levels. I also engage critically with the institutional dynamics that prompted this assessment—specifically how ways of doing/structuring tutor education might reflect ethos-building and the professionalization of writing center directors' labor.
Two Different Training Models Overseen by Two Different People:
My "Working Life" and Impetus for Assessment
Tutor education represents one of the most immediate expressions of the writing center's legitimacy: if it can be publicized that tutors undergo a rigorous praxis and theory-oriented process en route to becoming well-versed professionals, such training speaks to the extent to which the writing center itself operates as a highly professionalized space. Tutor education is in part an ethos-building tool for the center, and a way to signify to campus constituents that tutors are well-prepared for the complex roles they embody and the diverse conditions that they work within.
The tutoring staff at the WRC were initially trained using a checklist approved by the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA). Russell Carpenter, Scott Whiddon, and Courtnie Morin, in their 2017 piece for WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, argue ultimately that the major shortcomings of CRLA and other certification programs like it are that such programs are neither writing center nor context specific. They claim, "[CRLA and other national certification programs] are not explicitly designed to review writing center and institution-driven practices... . One might argue that there is little mention of 'writing' at all" (4). I concur with this assessment especially as it aligns with my own experiences. As an undergraduate tutor, I was trained using a CRLA-approved checklist and found its lack of context baffling. I did not understand how much of what we learned applied to the writing process, and I felt unprepared to work as a tutor. There was no apprentice period—I simply began tutoring, read a few pieces along the way, and met infrequently with others from my new hire cohort. I learned how to tutor writing by tutoring writing. I recognize now that CRLA is not a training method as such but rather a way for a tutoring program to receive an external certification. CRLA does, however, have several specific implications for training, as the CRLA website claims a major advantage of certification is that it "sets professional standards of skill and training for tutors and mentors." CRLA certification is, to an extent, adaptable to particular institutional conditions. Indeed, it is possible that a center could both seek CRLA certification and incorporate a variety of specific training methods, including, for example, a for-credit course. To be clear though, at my current institution, the "standards of skill and training" involved tutors working through a checklist that was approved by the CRLA—when I arrived on campus, the checklist constituted the only training method for new tutors. My initial reaction to this CRLA-approved checklist as implemented in my current center was that, in parallel with my experiences as an undergrad, it similarly asked tutors to work in the role without an opportunity to practice tutoring skills in a low stakes setting, drew from outdated pedagogy, and did not offer a consistent means for tutors to consciously and collaboratively reflect on their theoretical and practical experiences.
Rather, tutors working through the CRLA-approved checklist at my current institution completed readings, watched videos, reviewed and diagnosed writing samples, participated in three short online discussion forums, and observed several experienced staff members. They also met weekly in small group "workshops," where tutors-in-training would lead discussion once on a particular topic of interest. This training was for the most part self-paced and completed independently, and, following a final meeting with the Director, many of the staff began taking appointments by mid-October (although a few did not complete all requirements until the final weeks of the semester). While several of the readings in the training packet were culled specifically from writing center scholarship, many were nearing or over thirty years old, including "Triage Tutoring: The Least you Can Do" (1988), "Ethics of Peer Tutoring in Writing" (1983), and "Writing Lab Tutors: Hidden Messages that Matter" (1982). The CRLA checklist training was wholly overseen by the Director; it was thus something that I had no ability to modify.
Additionally complicating matters was the fact that I—prior to fully understanding the context of the situation—had already designed an alternative tutor education program, as I believed I was hired to do. My first semester at the university (Fall 2016), I was assigned to teach English 279: Tutoring Writing. Given the title of the class, I assumed that it had some prior connection to the WRC. This was not the case. Tutoring Writing had instead been initially developed by the English department's former writing program administrator to train and recruit English majors to work as course-embedded tutors to support students in off-cycle first-year composition courses. My department chair told me to redesign the class in accordance with my experience and expertise as a writing center practitioner. I was not aware of the course's prior purpose as the training ground for course-embedded tutors, and so did not design the class to match this objective. Instead, in addition to engaging with assigned reading and writing, students would complete a series of practicum hours in the WRC that built-up to independent tutoring: they began with a general observation of the space of the center, an appointment where they were themselves tutored, two observations, and two co-tutoring sessions. My pedagogical objective for the course was to blend theory and research-based training with practical, hands-on tutoring experience. Below are the main differences between the CRLA-approved checklist and the Tutoring Writing class:
Members of the class thus complete readings and discussions, and each student chooses one day to take ownership of a particular, contemporarily significant theme (e.g., topics included "Queering the Center" and "Fostering Inclusivity"). Students also blog about all their practicum hours in the WRC and, prior to being made available to take appointments independently, meet with me individually to discuss their perceived level of comfort/preparation. The full syllabus for the Tutoring Writing course can be found in Appendix 1.
In the Fall 2016 semester then, two different groups of tutors were sharing space in the WRC while being trained via two different programs (the CRLA-approved checklist and Tutoring Writing course) overseen by two different people. As you might imagine, this caused a great deal of confusion. I had little opportunity to interact with the students trained via the CRLA-approved checklist and the Director likewise had little opportunity to get to know the students enrolled in my course. Although only six students were enrolled in Tutoring Writing that semester, another issue was that, because the year's budgets had already been determined, none of those students could be hired for pay in the WRC following the completion of the course.1
I was very conscious too of the fact that my own negative experiences as a CRLA checklist-trained tutor were likely enough to dissuade me from seeing CRLA as the most effective training tool. A 2011 external review of the WRC—a review that ultimately led to the creation of the Faculty Director position—also supported a shift in the training model. The external reviewers explicitly noted that, "A faculty director can devote time to tutor training, perhaps by creating a course that is more closely tied to the needs of UMD students than the current CRLA training program" (page 12 in my assessment report). Given, though, the center's prior commitment to CRLA and other policies dictated by the WRC's status as a constituent branch of the campus's Academic Resource Center2, these sentiments were not likely to be enough to prompt any wider programmatic change. And thus emerges my impetus for conducting an assessment of my institution's tutor education models. Assessment in this case needed to provide persuasive, objective evidence for the value of the Tutoring Writing course. In deciding then to take on an assessment of tutor education my goal was, as Ellen Schendel and Bill Macauley (2012) note, to utilize assessment as a way to "help us to understand much more tangibly the work that we do, what works best, why it works, and how we can make that work accessible to as many as possible" (xvii). As a new director I understood that, especially within this setting, if I hoped to provide a convincing argument for replacing the CRLA-approved checklist with a for-credit course, I would need data to support these moves—data that would be compelling to the larger decision-making bodies on campus. Assessment in this case also served as a two-pronged ethos-building tool: it buttressed my own discipline-specific knowledge/objectives as a new writing center director, and assessment of tutor education in particular demonstrated a commitment to understanding how current practices assist and prepare tutors. With this latter objective in mind, it felt especially important that the tutors-in-training maintained a prominent voice in service of determining future best practices.
While it is unlikely that other individuals undergo assessment under the specific conditions I describe here, Julia Bleakney (2019), in her far-reaching survey of writing center administrators, reveals that a for-credit course is a common approach to tutor education, as almost half of her participants indicated that they require future tutors to enroll in a course either prior to or while tutoring in the center (5). Many administrators too may see echoes of their own circumstances of equivocal authority, intricate university relationships, and a need to articulate best practices to a variety of constituencies who may or may not be well-versed in writing center theory/praxis. I hope then that this framework can be useful and adaptable as an assessment metric for many forms of tutor education.
My assessment began midway through Fall 2016, during my first semester on campus and when new tutors were being trained through the two programs: the CRLA-approved Level 1 checklist (supervised by the Director) and the Tutoring Writing course, which I designed and instructed. My primary assessment instruments were anonymous surveys distributed to students in Tutoring Writing and to both new and experienced tutors trained using the WRC's CRLA-approved checklist, as well as focus groups with the new and experienced CRLA tutors. For clarification, "new CRLA tutors" refers to individuals who were newly hired at the WRC in Fall 2016—so, students who were currently training using the CRLA-approved checklist and who were not yet tutoring independently. "Experienced CRLA tutors" refers to tutors who had already been working as tutors in the WRC for at least one semester. This group of tutors had completed their new tutor CRLA-approved checklist and were eligible to continue working toward Level 2 and 3 CRLA certifications. Using the anonymous Qualtrics and Google Forms platforms, I requested that the new CRLA tutors, as well as the students in my Tutoring Writing course complete the survey below. The students in the Tutoring Writing course were again also completing practicum hours within the WRC space that included being tutored themselves, observing other WRC tutors, co-tutoring with an experienced WRC tutor, and, eventually, for a handful that were ready to take on independent tutoring, being added to the WRC schedule and therefore eligible to take appointments. The questions were identical, except that I changed the language slightly from "new tutor training program" (i.e., the CRLA-approved checklist) to "Tutoring Writing course" depending on which training program they were currently participating in.
Survey for All New Tutors
Experienced tutors trained via the CRLA-approved checklist were also asked to complete a survey.
Survey for Experienced CRLA Tutors
In the surveys with both the new and experienced CRLA tutors, a final question was included to recruit focus group participants. Specifically, it asked "Would you be willing to meet briefly in a focus group setting to further discuss your experiences? You will be paid for this time. If yes, please indicate your email address. This email address will NOT be connected to your responses."
My general framework for preparing focus group questions was to move from particular survey responses that I hoped to hear more about (i.e., "In the survey, one response indicated [x], does anyone have any thoughts or comments on this?") I consequently found the focus groups to be productive and fruitful and believe that running something like this in the first few months of employment can represent an effective move for new directors. It demonstrates to staff a willingness to see problem-solving as dialogic and provides the director with insight into the writing center's current modus operandi. Focus groups with tutors can therefore offer an enduring source of feedback, especially if facilitation can eventually be moved from the director to an experienced tutor or other staff member.
The majority of the new CRLA tutors (twenty-four of the twenty-five new hires), and all six of the students enrolled in Tutoring Writing took the survey. In articulating here some of the major results, I want to emphasize my consciousness of the numbers disparity between the two groups of new tutors (new CRLA tutors and those enrolled in Tutoring Writing). One historic concern related to the Tutoring Writing course was that it suffered from chronic under-enrollment; conversely, over twenty individuals represents quite a large number of new staff members. As shall be discussed in more detail in the next section, this disproportionate representation factored not insignificantly into my recommendations for moving forward.
What I saw then in analyzing the surveys taken by both the new CRLA tutors and the students enrolled in Tutoring Writing was, although both groups placed high value on practical, hands-on experiences (e.g., observations), the Tutoring Writing students tended to see additional value in the discussions and readings, or at least—even if some found them less valuable than practical experiences—were able to connect them more concretely with their lived writing center practices. Seventeen of the twenty-four new CRLA tutors, in contrast, identified "observations" as the most helpful element, whereas sixteen of the twenty-four noted that "reflections [online discussion forums]," "videos" or "readings" were the least helpful elements. Given that these questions were open-ended—and students could identify any aspect of the program that they found most and least beneficibox3al—these are fairly definitive results.
Students enrolled in Tutoring Writing were generally positive about their experiences in the class; many specifically referenced the practicum hours in the WRC as particularly helpful. One student felt that the course "made me feel much more confident in tutoring, especially in situations which might be more difficult and would otherwise be brushed aside in rapid training programs." Some other specific activities that the Tutoring Writing students noted to be beneficial were "the readings as well as the current tutors who come in to talk about their experiences"; "the class discussions...[that] felt reactive to the wants of the class"; and "observing actual tutoring sessions and learning from them."
|Figure 3. English 359 Home page|
Again, what I discovered in the responses from the Tutoring Writing students overall—especially as juxtaposed with the over sixty percent of new CRLA tutors who largely completed their work independently and saw "reflections," "videos," or "readings" as the least helpful elements of training—was recognition of the value of both the practical experiences and the other class elements, such as discussions and readings. This supports Gill's (2006) argument that "students [enrolled in tutoring courses] are more engaged with the reading because they see that it has direct implications for the work they are undertaking as peer writing tutors. The professionalization of writing center work can present then an opportunity to bridge a gap between theory and practice in tutor training" (6). In Tutoring Writing, I asked students to connect their practicum hours with texts and put their experiences in conversation with their readings (my specific prompts can be found on my course's blog here; see figure 3). While it was not universal that CRLA tutors did not seem to see the importance of readings/discussions3, these results support higher consciousness of the value in engagement with writing center scholarship in a course setting where instructors expect critical engagement with texts.
This is not meant to indicate that the CRLA-approved checklist was unsuccessful at making students feel prepared to tutor and/or integrating them into the writing center community. Almost all the CRLA tutors who took the survey felt supported by WRC staff and enjoyed having the opportunity to work there. Many new CRLA tutors also noted that they felt prepared to tutor, although some qualified this preparation with desire for additional training. For example,
Only one student in Tutoring Writing expressed a desire to have additional hands-on experience ("I think it would have been best if we could have tutored one of our classmates as a preparation of what to expect"), but the others noted that they felt either prepared or very prepared. One student even commented that they "felt almost overly prepared which really eased my nerves." It is significant that—without having specific knowledge of what occurred in Tutoring Writing—many of the CRLA tutors expressed desire to engage in models of practical experience built into the course (e.g., being tutored themselves and working directly with an experienced tutor).
I want to focus on two additional important observations that emerged from the surveys taken by the CRLA tutors, that again reinforce the lack of context and meaning for work that is largely completed independently. When asked if there were any final concerns that they wished to voice about their work in the WRC, four CLRA tutors specifically returned to tutor training:
Something that emerged also in the focus groups with new CRLA tutors was the lack of accountability and the perception that much of the training constituted busy work. One tutor admitted that he had skipped many of the checklist requirements, as he perceived (accurately) that no administrator was going to check to see whether all components had actually been completed.
The major challenge for the individuals who completed the survey as Tutoring Writing students was that a few felt like outsiders in the larger space of the center.
I saw here that the integration of the students in the course to the WRC represented a not insignificant obstacle, but, given that Fall 2016 represented the first time that the course was integrated into the WRC—where students completed practicum hours within the WRC space—such hiccups are perhaps to be expected.
In sum, I believed there to be three major concerns that manifest in the new CRLA tutors' experiences with the checklist: many tutors felt that 1) there was little value in engaging critically with the (outdated) tutoring scholarship presented to them, 2) the training program was confusing, lengthy, and repetitive, and 3) they were not fully prepared to begin tutoring and/or would have appreciated additional practical experiences. The major concern with regard to the students enrolled in the Tutoring Writing class is that many felt like "outsiders" within the WRC space.
Assessment Implications and Outcomes
This assessment culminated in a thirty-one page report (Appendix 2) that I sent first to the WRC Director to give her the opportunity to provide initial feedback. Following this, I sent the report to my department chair and dean, the director of the Academic Resource Center (the academic branch that houses the WRC) and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. The major recommendation in the report was that the CRLA-approved checklist be replaced by mandatory enrollment in Tutoring Writing for all individuals who hope to be hired as tutors. In addition to the surveys (which were included in full in the report) and some focus group data, I also justified this change based on four other criteria: ability to fully assess potential tutors' communication skills, burdens of time, relevancy of training content, and financial implications. I believed fundamentally that it was redundant and confusing to maintain both of these training models, and, as comments by the Tutoring Writing students demonstrated, integration of the students would always be difficult if the course was not fully an extension of the WRC community. I believed too that the course would allow administrators to assess potential tutors across a spectrum of necessary skills—specifically, as learners, communicators, and classroom collaborators.
Some discussion in the assessment report also focused on whether the WRC should continue to seek CRLA certification. To be clear, while I did point out some objections to CRLA published in recent scholarship, including the claim by a participant in Caswell, Grutsch McKinney, and Jackson's Working Lives that CRLA is "less based on what your needs are and more about meeting the certification," I did not directly advocate in my report for the WRC to suspend its relationship with CRLA (53). As mentioned previously, any for-credit course, including my own, could feasibly fulfill CRLA's training requirements. I did note that "I would support continued CRLA certification only if it aligns with the outcomes and goals established by the Tutoring Writing course" (page 13 in my assessment report). In writing this, I hoped to emphasize the idea that, that while achieving CRLA certification can be a means to offer external legitimacy to a center, when a director can demonstrate that they have access to disciplinary knowledge for effectively educating writing tutors—as perhaps also implied by the WRC's 2011 external reviewers—it may call into question the necessity and efficacy of an external certification not specifically built for application in writing centers, a point also centrally emphasized in Carpenter, Whiddon, and Morin's chapter. I do not, however, mean to imply that facilitating such tutor education requires a PhD in rhetoric and composition; rather, engaging with relevant and contemporary research in the discipline of writing center studies imbues a certain ethos.4
Another measure that bolstered my argument against the CRLA-approved checklist involved outlining the ways that it impacted the WRC's budget. For instance, in addition to the amount of paid time spent completing the checklist (which depended on the tutor's overall hourly time commitment to the WRC), each new tutor spent eleven-to-twelve hours per semester in their new tutor "workshop" and attending the full staff meetings. Tutors are paid approximately eleven dollars per hour. In Fall 2016, thirteen new tutors were hired from the WRC budget, six had Federal Work Study awards, and five received experiential learning (internship) credits.5Thus, in Fall 2016, approximately three-thousand dollars from the WRC budget was used for new tutor training. Since I had no direct access to the WRC's budget (that responsibility fell under the Director's purview), I could only highlight the general cost-saving benefits, not directly advocate for how I felt those funds could or should be re-appropriated. Including this breakdown was not meant to undermine the value of training, or to suggest that such training should not be compensated; rather, the goal was to emphasize to the administration that this figure represents just the cost of new tutor training, not total training expenses, including ongoing workshops/training sessions for experienced tutors. For this reason, coupled with the other concerns I have outlined, unless the administration advocated for continuing to work with CRLA (which they did not), I would not make an effort to align my Tutoring Writing class with CRLA training outcomes. This aggregate data proved to be compelling and, at the end of the Spring 2017 semester, I received approval from both my dean and the Vice Provost to move new tutor education to the Tutoring Writing course for all subsequent semesters.
Although I was successful in moving my proposal forward, this was not an entirely uncomplicated or uncontentious process. I believe strongly that my assessment methods heavily factored into the proposal's eventual realization. One of the main points of debate centered around how compulsory enrollment in the course would impact the diversity of staff and the ability to offer services. Based on our usage data, I believed that the Spring 2016 staff of fifty tutors was excessive, and our ideal number was closer to twenty-five. In moving the course forward, that also meant not hiring any new tutors for Fall 2017, essentially meaning that we would be reducing our staff temporarily by approximately fifty percent, given that twenty-five tutors would be returning for the fall. This drop caused some concerns, but I emphasized that many of new tutors enrolled in the course in the fall would be ready to tutor independently in the final weeks of the semester, bolstering our staff numbers when the center is theoretically the busiest.
One aspect that was related to promoting diversity involved opening the course to everyone interested in taking it. Previously, WRC tutors had been hired based on Academic Resource Center criteria which included professor recommendations, GPA (above a 3.2), and a writing sample. In my experiences at the center I came to understand that these requirements worked to disproportionately exclude students of color. Although I asked students to apply to the course with a resume, writing sample, and brief statement of interest, I allowed everyone who submitted an application to matriculate into the class. By keeping the course enrollment open, I hoped to move toward a more comprehensive assessment of students' skills—an evaluation that went beyond numeric and/or quantifiable measures of student proficiency. While I realize that it is perhaps not ideal to have, for example, as many as forty students in a section of Tutoring Writing, I do believe it is important to be conscious of how specific requirements work to exclude many students who might prove to be adept tutoring practitioners.
Recommendations for Creating a Required Course
Incentivize the Course
For those interested in creating a course in the future, some of my experiences in running the Fall 2017 section—the first section where Tutoring Writing was a requirement for all those interested in working as a tutor in the WRC—might be helpful as a means of scaffolding or proposing similar courses. As noted previously, Tutoring Writing had been chronically under enrolled prior to Fall 2017 and had utility for English majors only. It was critical that this not continue to be the case. If students would be paying for the course experience as credits, it needed to legitimately fulfill degree requirements beyond the English major. I consequently submitted a proposal to move the course to the 300–level, as all students at the university must complete at least thirty units of upper-level courses. I also proposed that the course fulfill a general Universities Studies requirement, as well as have the option to be "honorized" and thus fulfill credits for students in the honors program. I found that offering multiple incentives to take the class—beyond just as a means to potentially secure writing center employment—functions as a compelling recruiting tool.
There were three primary means of advertising the course to students: paper and print promotion (e.g., flyers and the whiteboard outside of the center), electronic sources (posting on the campus's student job portal and on the WRC's social media pages/website), and soliciting professors from multiple departments on campus to recommend students. Because the last method involved contacting specific students, this seemed to be the most effective tactic—students responded positively to the direct invitation. As a result of this combination of methods, twenty students enrolled in the Fall 2017 section of the Tutoring Writing course representing a range of majors, including biology, history, computer science, philosophy, and psychology.
Align New Tutors' Schedules with Mentors' Schedules
Another tactic that proved effective in terms of integrating the students more successfully into the WRC (something that the students in the Fall 2016 section indicated was a significant concern) was to implement a more robust mentoring program. When it came time for students to begin co-tutoring, rather than working with any experienced tutor who happened to be available, students were paired with a specific tutor whose schedule aligned with their own. The tutors-in-training were asked to take the lead in these sessions, with the experienced tutor there to jump in if/when necessary. The students, in consequence, worked consistently with and got to know one experienced staff member, who was also charged with helping the students become familiar with WRC protocols. The feedback from the WRC mentors also proved to be a valuable asset when it came to making hiring decisions, as the mentors were able to see the students "in action."
The Benefits of Assessing of Tutor Education
What assessment ultimately offered here was an opportunity to legitimize my arguments with data that privileged student perspective. At an institution that emphasizes—like many do—"student-centered" actions, I believe that this data reinforced a larger call for students to participate in their own learning. The position that I found myself in as a new director was certainly not an easy one, and engaging in this assessment helped me move forward deliberatively. Whether as applied to tutor training or to other aspects of writing center labor, initial assessments can promote conscious reflection and appreciation for the many individuals who might be impacted by administrative decisions.
I encourage other writing center professionals to adapt the surveys and focus group methods I describe to their own contexts. The assessment data gave me valuable insight not just into how to frame larger policy proposals, but also on how to shape my approach to the Tutoring Writing course and continuing tutor education. In the Fall 2017 section, I again distributed the survey to the students in the course and gained valuable insight into ways to adapt for future course sections—something that will continually be important as the class solidifies as a requirement for working in the WRC.
In sum, early-career assessment can serve three purposes. Assessment data appeals to university leaders and, for a new administrator, this can represent a means to bolster ethos. Assessment of tutor education specifically also gives students a voice and can help foster metacognitive processing regarding what and how they learn. Most importantly for me, this process helped to remedy some ambiguities inherent in my position and underscore the value of the for-credit course. Assessment of training experiences can ultimately be used to distinguish writing centers as highly professionalized space(s), consistently subject to ongoing critical framing and evaluation.
1 (back to text)
The Tutoring Writing class was, as previously noted, not initially created to have any connection to the WRC, but was instead the training course for students to serve as course-embedded tutors for first-year English courses. A week before classes started in Fall 2016, I was made fully aware for the first time of the course's history/the existence of the embedded tutoring program and tasked with supervising the three remaining course-embedded tutors. My redesign of the Tutoring Writing course had not been not as a training class for course-embedded tutors; in consequence, I was unsure if the course-embedded program would continue beyond the fall semester. Due though to funding constraints in the WRC—as well as the fact that course-embedded tutoring was the only program I had direct budgetary oversight over—it became clear that the only way that the Fall 2016 cohort of Tutoring Writing students would have the opportunity to tutor for pay was to work as course-embedded tutors. For the three students from the class who were hired then as course-embedded tutors, some adjustment was required, as they had completed practicum hours as one-on-one tutors in the WRC, not in an embedded environment—it was, in short, far from an ideal situation.
2 (back to text) Although the other two centers under the ARC umbrella (the Math and Business Center and the Science and Engineering Center) did not implement CRLA certification, some policies—such as criteria/requirements for hiring tutoring staff—were consistent amongst the three centers. This close affiliation with tutoring centers also had some other effects, such as WRC tutors consistently attending the NEPTA (New England Peer Tutor Association) annual conference, as opposed perhaps to the NEWCA (Northeast Writing Center Association) annual conference.
3 (back to text) Four CRLA tutors did find the readings to be helpful.
4 (back to text) Indeed, there are many ways beyond or in supplement to rhet/comp graduate coursework to accomplish this, including by utilizing one of the many excellent published tutor training manuals, attending disciplinary conferences and/or the IWCA Summer Institute, engaging with professional listservs like WCenter, and/or conducting writing center research.
5 (back to text) While it might seem ostensibly positive that students could receive credits for working as tutors, one thing that I learned from the focus groups was that several of those working for credit did not actually need the credits—they only accepted this option in order to have the opportunity to work in the WRC. In essence then, they were paying the university to have the chance to work as a tutor—especially problematic because the experiential learning credits only fulfill one graduation requirement. The "paid" versus "working for credit" distinction also created something of a hierarchy, in that the tutors were aware that those working for pay were the first-choice hires.
Amigone, Grace Ritz. "Writing Lab Tutors: Hidden Messages That Matter." The Writing Center Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, 1982, pp. 24-29.
Bleakney, Julia. "Ongoing Writing Tutor Education: Models and Practices." What We Teach Writing Tutors: AWLN Digital Edited Collection, edited by Karen G. Johnson and Ted Roggenbuck, 2019, https://wlnjournal.org/digitaleditedcollection1/Bleakney.html.
Carpenter, Russell, Scott Whiddon, and Courtnie Morin. 'For Writing Centers, By Writing
Centers': A New Model for Certification via Regional Organizations." WLN: A Journal
of Writing Center Scholarship, vol. 42, nos. 1-2, 2017, pp. 2-9.
---. "Understanding What Certifications Mean for Writing Centers: Analyzing a Pilot Program via a Regional Organization." How We Teach Writing Tutors: A WLN Digital Edited Collection, edited by Karen G. Johnson and Ted Roggenbuck, 2019, https://wlnjournal.org/digitaleditedcollection1/Carpenteretal.html.
Caswell, Nikki, Jackie Grutsch McKinney, and Rebecca Jackson. The Working Lives of New
Writing Center Directors. Utah State University Press, 2016.
"CRLA Certifications." College Reading and Learning Association, https://www.crla.net/index.php/certifications/about-crla-certifications. Accessed 27
Gill, Judy. "The Professionalization of Tutor Training." The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 30, no. 6, 2006, pp. 1-6.
Haynes, Judy. "Triage Tutoring: The Least You Can Do."The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 12,
no. 10, 1988, pp. 12-13.
Ianetta, Melissa, et al. Polylog: Are Writing Center Directors Writing Program Administrators?" Composition Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006, pp. 11-42.
Lichtenstein, Gary. "Ethics of Peer Tutoring in Writing." The Writing Center Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, 1983, pp. 29-34.
McCarroll, Meredith. "Making Tutoring Strange: The Pedagogical Aims of Tutor Training."
Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, 2017,
http://www.praxisuwc.com/mccarroll. Accessed 21 January 2018.
Schendel, Ellen, and William J. Macauley, Jr. Building Writing Center Assessments that Matter. Utah State University Press, 2012.
Thank you, first and foremost, to the wonderful tutors at U Mass Dartmouth for their grace and patience as we navigate many transitions. Many thanks too to the English department at U Mass Dartmouth—especially Chris Eisenhart, Katie DeLuca, Alexis Teagarden, and Karen Gulbrandsen—for their consistent and emphatic support. A final thank you to Ted Roggenbuck, Karen Johnson, and Crystal Conzo for all their efforts in putting this innovative collection together. I'm honored to be included here.
Elisabeth H. Buck is an Assistant Professor of English at U Mass Dartmouth and, starting in Fall 2018, will also direct the campus's new Multiliteracy and Communication Center. She will continue to train MCC tutors via a credit-based training course. Dr. Buck is the author of the monograph Open-Access, Multimodality, and Writing Center Studies, and has also appeared in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal and The Peer Review.